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Roundtable: Our favorite Dirk Nowitzki moments

Thinking about the best Dallas Maverick of all time before his jersey retirement ceremony

2021 NBA Playoffs -Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

What’s your favorite Dirk Nowitzki moment?

Matthew: The and one over Manu Ginobili in 2006. The Spurs were the Mavericks primary rivals in the 2000s even if the Mavericks weren’t the Spurs primary rival. This was the moment Dirk first stamped himself as THE best player in the world. He got the Mavericks past the immovable object of the Tim Duncan Spurs and did so on one of the most iconic plays in Mavericks history.

2006 brings up other memories for lots of people and they are not good. But you don’t get the joy of the 2011 finals without the heartbreak of the 2006 finals. And you don’t get the heartbreak of the 2006 finals without this amazing play.

Lauren: I’ll go with the picture that’s my pinned tweet. It was nice to interact with him to see him as a person instead of just a player and have that experience.

Luke: The one where Dirk sank the young Lakers right in front of Kobe in 2016. It’s a weird one to have as my favorite since it didn’t really matter much in terms of actual basketball stuff. But it had everything I’d ever want in a Dirk moment.

The game was tied with just a few seconds left. Dirk caught the ball posting up Julius Randle on the right wing. He gave Randle a rip-through, and then hit a one-dribble pull-up in the way that only Dirk ever did. As he was fading away, he stumbled into the Lakers bench where Kobe was standing and watching. Kobe gave Dirk a slap on the butt as he nodded with approval. Dirk tapped Kobe in the chest before running back to the other end. Kobe looked at the Lakers on the court and said “that’s a helluva shot.”

In a world without Kobe, it feels so good to have a wonderful Dirk-Kobe moment like that — even if it was in the twilight of both of their careers.

Clint: On May 13, 2010 my wife and I went to see Conan O’Brien live at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium as part of his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” after losing the Tonight Show.

It was an incredible night. There was Conan, Andy Richter, Reggie Watts, Deon Cole, Jimmy Vivino, La Bamba and the rest of the band. There were appearances from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (via video) and the Masturbating Bear. The audience was going crazy. Conan brought out the “Walker Texas Ranger Lever”, re-named the “Chuck Norris Rural Police Handle” for legal reasons. He pulled it a couple of times, with the usual amazing results.

But then Conan said he needed help. He couldn’t deal with all this power on his own. He announced the man who would be helping pull the handle next, Dirk Nowitzki. The crowd went absolutely insane. The room was vibrating. This was the first time I’d ever been in the same building with Dirk and I felt like I was levitating. The room, and the city, truly loved this man, and he loved us back.

I’m not sure how, but in that moment I knew Dirk would never leave. A couple of months later, he agreed to a 4 year deal to remain with the Mavericks. About 10 months after that, he led them to their first and only title. That was an incredible moment, but I don’t know if I was even as happy then as I was when Dirk walked out on that stage.

Tim: Man, so many amazing moments to choose from. I think my favorite Dirk moment was when he got emotional in the second quarter of the 41.21.1 game after they played the “Uncle Dirk” video on the big screen.

As told by Brad Townsend, Dirk was quietly visiting patients at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas around the holidays for over a decade. He never publicized it in any way for years. That’s the type of person Dirk is — & while I loved everything Dirk did on the court — the story & legacy of “Uncle Dirk” bringing a smile to those children’s faces during very trying times is my favorite.

Ben: My favorite Dirk moment is something off the court, recounted in Ian Thomsen’s book The Soul of Basketball. We’re all familiar with the image of Dirk running off the court in the closing moments of Game 6 of the 2011 Finals after the Mavericks clinched the title. He was so emotional he felt he had to get off the court and have some privacy. The NBA needed him on the court to accept the Larry O’Brien trophy and his Finals MVP award. But NBA media officials couldn’t get him to come out of the locker room.

Mavericks media relations rep and close friend Scott Tomlin went to the locker room and pleaded with Dirk to come out for the ceremony. He told Dirk “You’ve got to go back out there because you earned this.” Still, Dirk wouldn’t budge.

Then Tomlin said, “You’ve got to get out there and accept what’s yours. Your teammates are getting ready to accept the Larry O’Brien trophy. You’ve got to be out there for that.” At the mention of his teammates, Dirk relented.

So that’s my favorite Dirk moment. Caught up in the emotions of a moment he wasn’t certain would ever happen, he put aside himself yet again to be with his teammates to celebrate what they’d accomplished. And that’s why he’s the greatest.

David: Mine is a more personal moment. It was Dirk’s final game in San Antonio and for the first three quarters my three friends and I were up in the third level. To make a long story short, during the third quarter a lady gave us platinum level tickets and we were able to sit three rows behind the Dallas bench for the entirety of Dirk’s final quarter. During a timeout when Nowitzki was not in the game, he was standing behind the huddle facing us. My friend started recording and we were yelling “Dirk! Dirk!” to try and get his attention. He looked up and raised his hand as if to say “what’s up.” It embodied what Dirk was as a player and human: a great guy who made a lot of people happy for over 20 years.

Ian: For me, it might be a strange pick, but probably Dirk hopping over the scorer’s table as time wound down in game 6 of the finals. I don’t remember if it was Rick Bucher or someone else who described Dirk as sort of an “emotionless plastic action man” during that finals run, but years of heartbreak and undeserved labels like “choker” had followed Dirk up to that point, and I think you could really see the way he’d walled himself off from pain at certain moments, like his intense but blank stare in the aftermath of the game 2 layup to win. So in that moment when he knew it was actually going to happen and allowed himself to accept it, you could tell the emotion was coming and he needed to be able to experience that in private, rather than on camera like a participant in some reality TV program.

It feels like a fitting Dirk moment. He was never about being performative or trying to sell himself as some brand. There are many people who might claim that they don’t care about fortune or fame but in Dirk’s case that might genuinely be true. So he earned that right, to leap past a crowd of people waiting to celebrate so he could collect himself and finally wash away whatever bad memories were haunting him.

Kirk: Moments are hard with Dirk. How do you pick out a moment when I can describe entire phases of my life in terms of what was going on with Dirk and the Mavericks. 2006 Finals? I was jobless and terrified and the Mavericks gave me life then Wade took it away. 2016 and Dirk’s final 40+ point game? I was holding my baby boy. Dirk’s retirement announcement? I remember my son asking me to go play basketball outside when I told him.

But this story here, the Dirk Nowitzki walkabout, has stayed with me since. It was about a man in pain, searching for meaning. And in 2007, there’d be plenty of pain ahead before triumph. He talked about the failures. He talked about being who he is, for better or for worse. It’s just such a window into a man that we all love as much as anyone can love someone they don’t really know.

Mike: In 2019, I was in the locker room interviewing Dwight Powell about what Black History month in the NBA means to him. At the tail end of our chat, Dirk who was nearby, quipped: “my turn next?” We laughed and then he said “good question, hey Devin come talk to this man”. And Devin Harris gave me some good quotes too. That story is here, by the way.

Matthew, again: I’m going to add a second moment because Dirk had so many. The second moment I will mention is the Punk’d episode. The episode showed what an incredibly nice man Dirk was and is.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Dirk was set up by Michael Finley and Casey Smith. While having dinner a kid came up and asked for an autograph. Dirk happily obliged. The kid then came back with a bag of items from a sports store including among other things a Lebron jersey. Dirk signed them all without complaint.

Casey Smith and Michael Finley then chided Dirk for being too nice at which point the child returned with another bag of items to sign. Dirk then told the kid to wait until after they ate at which point the child threw a fit. The manager then walked in and told Dirk and company that they had to leave for not obliging the child. Dirk was incredulous but did not throw a fit nor say any version of “do you know who I am.” He simply went to sign the check at which point he was told he had been Punked which he yet again took in stride. Dirk was just the best.

Josh: I’m going to cheat and retell a story I shared when I covered Dirk’s final home game in 2019, when I first met Dirk and heard him singing in the locker room showers.

The first time I met Dirk was during the preseason in 2014. I had been with Mavs Moneyball for three years then and hadn’t had a chance to cover a game with Dirk for the site due to real life.

I covered my first game during the 2012-2013 season, but Dirk was recovering from his knee surgery at the time. I moved away for my first full-time newspaper job by the time he returned. So when I moved back, I was excited at the chance to ask Dirk some questions about his jumper.

Since I had covered covered countless high school, college and smaller professional sporting events before, I was used to the waiting. When you’re a sports writer, you do an unimaginable amount of standing and waiting.

But this was taking an exceptionally long time as I learned Dirk usually takes a long time after games to make his way to the locker room. I stood in the locker room as the post game media huddle dwindled as other media members had deadlines to meet and things to do that didn’t require a Dirk soundbite. It was only a preaseason game, so it didn’t really matter.

As I waited for what felt like an eternity, I heard something through the walls of the locker room — it was singing. Specifically, it was Dirk singing. Holy shit, I thought, Dirk is singing in the shower.

The old Mavericks locker room was very close to the team showers, so it apparently wasn’t that crazy, but it was to me. One of the greatest players of all time was just happily singing in the shower like any one of us loafs might do on a Saturday morning.

When Dirk finally appeared, he noticed the small count in the locker room and the relative quietness. Before anyone asked a question, he smiled and quipped “Y’all enjoy the show?”

In terms of my favorite on-court memories, well most of my collogues have appropriately stolen most of mine — the and-one against the Spurs, walking off the court with tears in his eyes after winning a title. Instead I’ll share a Dirk moment that doesn’t get enough love: his 29 point fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz in 2009.

To me, this is peak Dirk. Getting to the rim, shooting threes, bulldozing his way to the free throw line, contested isolation daggers, dragging a slumping team across the finish line in a game the Mavericks had no business winning.

It’s also a special game to me because this was the fall of 2009, the start of my junior year of college, my first year back in Texas after spending two years in Kansas. I was a little down on myself for transferring back home, and it felt nice to have Dirk have me on the edge of my seat, standing and yelling for an entire night.

We recorded a special Dirk Nowitzki centic podcast episode which you can listen to here. We’d also love if you subscribed to our pod, search Mavs Moneyball Podcast in your favorite app. Again, click here to listen or play on the embed below.